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Houser's career start leads Crew to shutout

With Yelich on bench, righty takes 'such an important step'
@AdamMcCalvy
August 6, 2020

National League pitchers aren’t swinging the bat in 2020, but Adrian Houser still found a way to pick up the Brewers’ sagging offense. Houser delivered the Brewers’ first seven-inning start this season and the longest scoreless start of his career in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed

National League pitchers aren’t swinging the bat in 2020, but Adrian Houser still found a way to pick up the Brewers’ sagging offense.

Houser delivered the Brewers’ first seven-inning start this season and the longest scoreless start of his career in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, proving along the way that, yes, it is possible to neutralize Sox slugger José Abreu with a game in the balance.

Box score

“Being out in left field, [Houser] was putting on a show the whole game,” said Brewers rookie Mark Mathias, who celebrated his first career start, hit and run scored all on the same night.

It was Mathias -- who’d never played the outfield before the Brewers tried him there this spring -- manning left field on Wednesday, not the slumping Christian Yelich. And while shaking up the lineup did not produce an offensive outburst, the Brewers did manage to snap Chicago’s six-game winning streak thanks to Houser’s brilliance on the mound and the bottom three hitters in the Milwaukee order. Mathias (in his first big league at-bat), Orlando Arcia and Eric Sogard started the third inning with successive singles against Chicago starter Dallas Keuchel, who was otherwise untouched in seven stellar innings of his own opposite the 27-year-old Houser.

“Those guys [the White Sox], they can swing the bat,” said Josh Hader, who closed the 80th 1-0 win in franchise history. “They’re known for putting up runs and hitting homers and all that stuff. For us to hold them to a shutout, that’s definitely what you’re looking for."

The White Sox were the most potent scorers of the 10 teams in MLB’s Central divisions entering Wednesday, but a lone run of support was enough for Houser, who has proven adept at navigating the uncertainties of 2020. In his season debut, he waited out a rain delay of one hour and 42 minutes between the first and second innings of a solid, five-inning start. Then, when his second start was postponed along with the rest of the Brewers’ scheduled series against the Cardinals at Miller Park, he waited three extra days to pitch instead in Chicago, against a White Sox team he saw exactly two weeks earlier when the Brewers played their only exhibition game before the regular season.

Houser was better the second time around. On Wednesday, he retired seven consecutive hitters during one particularly sharp, 19-pitch stretch from the third inning through the end of the fifth to start his second turn through the lineup, then recorded big strikeouts to end the sixth and seventh innings to surpass Brandon Woodruff’s 6 1/3-innings start in Pittsburgh one week earlier.

“I think that it’s such an important step for our young guys, when you get to a point you’re tired,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “You’re a little bit at the end. Getting that last out. Getting a good hitter. It’s part of taking that next step for guys, and he did it."

Houser did it twice.

1) Sixth inning
The batter: Abreu
The situation: Two on, two outs

Abreu delivered a dagger against the Brewers each of the previous two nights in Milwaukee, smashing a tying home run off Corbin Burnes’ seventh-inning fastball of a come-from-behind Sox win on Monday, then hitting a go-ahead single off Devin Williams’ seventh-inning fastball in another come-from-behind Sox win on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the showdown came one inning earlier, but the stakes were just as high, as Abreu stepped into the box with two outs and runners at the corners following the latest of Chicago’s seemingly endless series of infield hits.

Houser won the battle with three pitches. The first was a swinging strike on a sinker way down and in, then a foul ball on another sinker may have caught more of the plate than designed. Instead of another fastball, Houser got a swinging strike three with a curveball in the dirt, blocked by catcher Manny Piña.

“We’d been talking about it all night, that a curveball in front of the plate would be a good pitch to him to put him away,” Houser said. “I threw him some sinkers in his earlier at-bats, and I think he was starting to cheat to that. So we went curveball there, and I just knew I had to keep it down. It got the job done.”

Said Counsell: “When he can do what he wants with that pitch … that’s a real difference-maker as far as what the hitter has to defend.”

2) Seventh inning
The batter: James McCann
The situation: One on, one out

Houser had just taken a few steps toward the visitors' dugout, believing he’d thrown strike three to Nomar Mazara to end the inning. But the call was ball four, and Houser returned to the mound to face McCann, Chicago’s catcher. For a tiring pitcher, it had the potential for letdown.

But Houser instead logged another strikeout, his fifth and final of the night. It was a direct attack: Three sinkers with a four-seam fastball mixed in. The strikeout came on a 93.2-mph sinker dotted at the bottom of the strike zone.

“He responded in that situation,” Counsell said.

“You just keep it locked in,” Houser said. “I knew I could get it done with some sinkers, and that’s what we did.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.